Eye on Extremism: December 23, 2019

The New York Times: American Service Member Is Killed In Afghanistan

“An American service member was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, according to military officials, bringing to 20 the number of troops who have died during combat operations this year. The service member’s death is a grim reminder that more Americans have died fighting the Taliban and other insurgent groups in 2019 than in any other year since 2014, when the Pentagon euphemistically announced the “end of combat operations” in the country. Thirteen troops were killed in 2018, and 11 in 2017. In a news release, the American-led mission in Afghanistan provided little detail about the episode or the service member’s identity pending notification of next of kin. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the killing. Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, said the service member was killed in Kunduz Province, when the insurgents targeted American and Afghan forces with explosives. Social media accounts affiliated with the Taliban shared photos of what they claimed were the identity badge of a United States Army soldier, a sergeant, and photos of his bloody uniform.”

Voice Of America: Al-Shabab Attack Kills 8 As US Launches Record Airstrikes In 2019

“The al-Shabab militant group claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb that targeted military commanders in the central Somali town of Galkayo, killing at least eight people and wounding 55 others Saturday evening. Witnesses told VOA Somali that the vehicle exploded as the military officials were leaving a hotel to attend a reconciliation meeting. Commander of Somali land forces Brigadier General Abdihamid Mohamed Dirir and commander of the 21st Division General Abdulaziz Abdullahi Qoje survived the attack. Officials said four civilians and four soldiers were killed in the explosion. “At about 8:30pm last night this car you see its remains exploded, it was targeting military vehicles,” says the Mayor of Galkayo’s southern half Hersi Yusuf Barre. “There is a significant casualties, a lot of civilians were hurt.” Residents started cleaning up the site and collected the body of the suicide bomber for burial. A doctor at Galkayo hospital Mohamed Abdi Ahmed told VOA Somali some of the injured are in serious condition. An ambulance carrying an injured person from an attack by Al Shabaab gunmen on a hotel near the presidential residence arrives… It is the second major attack by al-Shabab this month in Somalia.”

BBC News: Isis In Iraq: Militants 'Getting Stronger Again'

“There are growing indications that the Islamic State (IS) group is re-organising in Iraq, two years after losing the last of its territory in the country. Kurdish and Western intelligence officials have told the BBC that the IS presence in Iraq is a sophisticated insurgency, and IS attacks are increasing. The militants are now more skilled and more dangerous than al-Qaeda, according to Lahur Talabany, a top Kurdish counter-terrorism official. “They have better techniques, better tactics and a lot more money at their disposal,” he said. “They are able to buy vehicles, weapons, food supplies and equipment. Technologically they're more savvy. It's more difficult to flush them out. So, they are like al-Qaeda on steroids.” The veteran intelligence chief delivered his stark assessment in a London accent - the legacy of years in the UK after his family had to flee from the regime of Saddam Hussein. At his base in Sulaimaniya, nestled in the hills of the Kurdistan region of Northern Iraq, he painted a picture of an organisation that has spent the past 12 months rebuilding from the ruins of the caliphate. “We see the activities are increasing now, and we think the rebuilding phase is over,” said Mr Talabany, who heads the Zanyari Agency, one of two intelligence agencies in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

Reuters: France Kills 33 Militants In Mali Raid: President

“French forces killed 33 Islamist militants in Mali on Saturday using attack helicopters, ground troops and a drone, near the border with Mauritania where a group linked to al Qaeda operates, French authorities said. The raid about 150 km (90 miles) northwest of Mopti in Mali targeted the same forest area where France wrongly claimed last year it had killed Amadou Koufa, one of the most senior Islamist militants being hunted by French forces in the Sahel. A spokesman for the French army’s chief of staff declined to say at this stage whether Koufa was the target this time. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the operation in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast’s main city of Abidjan, describing it as a major success. “This morning ... we were able to neutralize 33 terrorists, take one prisoner and free two Malian gendarmes who had been held hostage,” Macron said, a day after visiting French troops stationed in Ivory Coast. The operation took place in a different part of Mali to where 13 French soldiers died last month in a helicopter crash while tracking a militant group suspected of being linked to Islamic State. That was the biggest loss of French troops in a day since an attack in Beirut 36 years ago and raised questions about the human cost to France of its six-year campaign against Islamist insurgents in West Africa.”

Deutsche Welle: Germany: Nine Terror Attacks Prevented Since Berlin Christmas Market Killings

“Since the 2016 terrorist attack in Berlin's Breitscheidplatz, German authorities have prevented a further nine attacks of a similar nature, the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) said Sunday. Indeed, last month alone, two acts of terror were thwarted, the BKA told Germany's Welt am Sonntag. The head of the organization's recently formed department for “Islamist-motivated terrorism / extremism,” Sven Kurenbach, told the newspaper that the death of IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October may provoke more attacks. Kurenbach said: “After the death of the IS leader, there was an increasing call for terror in the West in radical Islamist circles.” The nature of the onslaughts is changing too, as Kurenbach explained: “The trend is towards attacks with simple means. Firearms have recently played less of a role in attack planning in this country.” The establishment of the new BKA department was one of the more decisive reactions to the attack on the Berlin Christmas market three years ago, in which 12 people died and 55 were injured. At the end of October, BKA President Holger Münch said that seven Islamist-motivated attacks had been prevented since 2016.”

Fox News: ISIS 'Caliphate' Crumbled In 2019, But Terror Group Remains Forceful Threat, Experts Say

“The lack of consensus over what to do with these individuals will continue to be a security threat and potential source of the group’s resurgence," said Josh Lipowsky, a senior researcher for the Counter Extremism Project. "ISIS now calls for its followers to support the larger, metaphorical Islamic State by attacking opponents of its ideology. For example, Uslan Khan’s attack at the London Bridge last month specifically targeted a group that works with radicalized prisoners." According to Lipowsky, this strategy allows ISIS to be less centralized and focus its efforts primarily on propaganda. "ISIS doesn’t have to coordinate – or pay – these lone wolves but can claim these individuals as soldiers of the caliphate while sowing fear that ISIS could strike anywhere," he added.”

United States

Fox News: US On High Alert For Possible ‘Christmas Gift’ Missile From North Korea

“U.S. officials are on high alert for signs of a possible missile launch from North Korea in the coming days that officials have referred to as a “Christmas gift.” A significant launch or nuclear test would raise the end of North Korea's self-imposed moratorium on missile launches and tests. It would also be a major blow to one of President Trump’s major foreign policy goals to get North Korea back to the negotiating table to eliminate its nuclear weapons. Earlier this month, the North conducted what U.S. officials say was an engine test. Experts believe it may have involved an engine for a long-range missile. "North Korea has been advancing. It has been building new capabilities," said Anthony Wier, a former State Department official who tracks nuclear disarmament for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "As long as that continues, they gain new capabilities to try new missiles to threaten us and our allies in new ways," North Korea warned of a possible "Christmas gift" in early December, saying the Trump administration was running out of time on nuclear negotiations, and it was up to the U.S. to choose what "Christmas gift" it gets from Pyongyang.  Victor Cha, a Korea expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said a review of the possible launch sites in North Korea shows they are a "basically ready to go." Defense Secretary Mark Esper told reporters earlier this week that the U.S. has heard all the talk of a possible upcoming test around Christmas.”

The New York Times: Hanukkah In Jersey City After Terror Attack: ‘Good Will Always Win’

“JC Kosher Supermarket no longer has broken windows and strips of yellow police tape. Less than two weeks ago, two gunmen charged the market in an anti-Semitic attack, leaving three bystanders dead and shocking Jersey City’s thriving multicultural community. Now the market is boarded up, spray-painted with a mural of a blue heart and the Pulaski Skyway bridge. But Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, one of the organizers of a menorah lighting at the market on Sunday, at the start of Hanukkah, had a hopeful message. “The first night of Hanukkah at the very place of this shooting, which created so much darkness and negativity, can bring light and positivity,” he said. “When we celebrate at a time like this, almost two weeks from a terrible shooting, we start thinking about what’s the meaning of the holiday.” The menorah lighting is a central part of Hanukkah, which celebrates the victory 2,000 years ago of the Jewish Maccabees in their battle to regain Jerusalem from the Syrians. The menorah was used to cast light as they rebuilt their temple. There was enough oil to burn for only one night, but it lasted for eight. On Sunday evening, a small silver menorah and boxes of doughnuts sat on a folding table in front of the market.”

Syria

Fox News: Israel Airstrikes Target Iran-Linked Military Base In Syria, State Media Reports

“Israel conducted an airstrike into Syria on Sunday night as air defenses in the country opened fire on missiles that had entered, state media reported. Residents in Damascus said explosions could be heard near the capital; there were no immediate reports on casualties. Syrian state TV gave no further details, though said one of the Israeli missiles was shot down near the Damascus suburb of Aqraba. There was no immediate comment from Israel, who told Fox News they don’t comment on foreign media reports of airstrikes attributed to the Jewish state. In neighboring Lebanon, Israeli warplanes could be heard flying in the country's airspace at the time of the airstrikes in Syria. Damascus had said in the past that Israeli warplanes have fired missiles into Syria from Lebanon's airspace. Fox News correspondent Trey Yingst reported Sunday that explosions were also heard in the city of Homs, in western Syria, that is also home of a base that is linked to Iran. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group that has activists around the country, said the missile attack targeted Iranian and Syrian military positions near Damascus.”

Los Angeles Times: Syrian Troops Push Toward Turkish Observation Post In Idlib

“Syrian government forces pushed deeper in their offensive on the last remaining rebel stronghold in the country’s northwest on Sunday, getting very close to a Turkish observation post in the area, opposition activists said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the opposition’s Syrian Civil Defense, also known as White Helmets, reported shelling and airstrikes on rebel-held villages in Idlib on Sunday, saying that at least one civilian was killed. The province of Idlib has been at the center of a Syrian forces’ push under the cover of airstrikes in recent weeks, with more than a dozen villages captured. The offensive has already forced tens of thousands of civilians to abandon their homes and flee, including thousands who crossed into neighboring Turkey seeking safety. The attacks resumed after a cease-fire in force since the end of August collapsed recently. Turkey has backed Syrian rebels in the neighboring country’s civil war, now in its ninth year. Saraqeb and Maaret al-Numan are two major rebel-held towns on the highway linking the capital, Damascus, with the northern city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest. The two towns have been emptied of civilians since becoming the target of the offensive, which aims to reopen the highway, closed since 2012.”

The New York Times: Syrian Air Defense Intercepts Missiles From Israel: State Media

“The Syrian army's air defense system intercepted missiles coming from the direction of Israel that were aimed at targets on the outskirts of the Syrian capital, state media said on Sunday. Four cruise missiles were believed to have been launched across the coast through Lebanese airspace toward Syria, a source in the regional alliance supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told Reuters. Later the army said it had brought down one of the missiles in an area near the capital. It gave no further details and there was no immediate comment from Israel. Israel has launched hundreds of missiles toward Syria in recent years, targeting Iranian-backed militias operating in the country as well as supplies sent by pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah to support Assad's forces. Iran and Hezbollah are fighting on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian war, and Israel says they are trying to turn Syria into a new front against Israelis. Israel has vowed it will continue its strikes against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapons shipments to Hezbollah.”

France 24: Who Is The Islamic State Group's New Boss?

“Just days after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a raid by US special forces in October, the Islamic State group announced the name of the man who has replaced him as leader. But the true identity of Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Quraishi remains shrouded in mystery, and with it the organisation's strategy going forward. “We don't know much about him except that he is the leading judge of IS and he heads the Sharia (Islamic law) committee,” said Hisham al-Hashemi, an Iraqi expert on the jihadist group. But there are even doubts that the man designated “caliph”, or religious ruler, exists at all. Some suggest the group was caught off guard and announced a name as a holding move, to create the impression it is on top of things. “The organisation was taken by surprise by the brutality of Baghdadi's elimination,” said Jean-Piere Filiu, an Arab world specialist at Paris' Sciences-Po university. “It has since communicated the identity of a successor who we don't know if he truly exists or whether it is a decoy while the process of designating a true successor plays out in Syria and Iraq,” he said. Shortly after Baghdadi triggered a suicide belt during the American raid, US President Donald Trump announced to the world he had died “like a dog.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Two Separate Attacks Kill Six Pro-Regime Forces In Daraa

“Syria's Daraa governorate witnessed 3 separate attacks during the past hours, which left five members affiliated to the 4th Division of the Regime Army dead. This came after an armed attack on one of their checkpoints in Sad Saham al-Golan in the western countryside of Daraa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported after it monitored the continuation of assassinations in the area. The war monitor said that all of the casualties were “reservists”, one person was killed by unidentified gunfire in Bosr al-Harir town east of Daraa, while unknown assailants tried to assassinate a member of the political security by shooting him in Al-Sanamin city north of Daraa city, left him injured. This raises the number of attacks and assassination attempts in various forms and methods by IEDs, mines, car-bombs and shooting, during the period from last June to date, which increased to more than 215 attacks. Meanwhile, the number of persons killed following these attempts during the same period reached 153, including 24 civilians, in addition to 79 members of regime forces and allied militias and collaborators with the security forces.”

The Jerusalem Post: ISIS Used Drones To Attack Three Refineries In Syria

“Three refineries were attacked simultaneously in the city of Homs north of Damascus, using drones, in what was called by the mineral resources and oil ministry in Syria as “terrorist activities.” The refineries’ manager in Homs, Haythem Massucar, has said that two refineries and two gas facilities in the area were attacked early Saturday morning. Fire fighters managed to quickly douse the fire which broke out at the facilities.  The Syrian Oil Ministry reported on its Facebook  regarding the occurence of “systematic terror attacks on three of [its] oil facilities” which includes refineries in the Homs area, and gas stations located central Homs and the “Rian” gas station, located east of the region. The Ministry pointed out that “the attack caused damage to several of the production units” and mentioned that fire fighters intervened in putting out the fires, while “technical teams have begun working to renew activities”. Syrian State Television played videos showing fire fighters working in the middle of the night, to douse the flames in one of the three facilities. The Official Syrian News Agency quoted the oil minister Ali Ganam saying: “The attack shut down a number of production units in the three facilities,” and added that “the technical teams and the fire fighters manage to take control of the fires in the first few hours”. In his estimation, the supply of cooking gas will not be hurt.”

Iran

Reuters: Special Report: Iran's Leader Ordered Crackdown On Unrest - 'Do Whatever It Takes To End It'

“After days of protests across Iran last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appeared impatient. Gathering his top security and government officials together, he issued an order: Do whatever it takes to stop them. That order, confirmed by three sources close to the supreme leader’s inner circle and a fourth official, set in motion the bloodiest crackdown on protesters since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. About 1,500 people were killed during less than two weeks of unrest that started on Nov. 15. The toll, provided to Reuters by three Iranian interior ministry officials, included at least 17 teenagers and about 400 women as well as some members of the security forces and police. The toll of 1,500 is significantly higher than figures from international human rights groups and the United States. A Dec. 16 report by Amnesty International said the death toll was at least 304. The U.S. State Department, in a statement to Reuters, said it estimates that many hundreds of Iranians were killed, and has seen reports that number could be over 1,000. The figures provided to Reuters, said two of the Iranian officials who provided them, are based on information gathered from security forces, morgues, hospitals and coroner’s offices. The government spokesman’s office declined to comment on whether the orders came from Khamenei and on the Nov. 17 meeting. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment for this story.”

Asharq Al-Awsat: Houthis Officially Admit 'Military Cooperation' With Iran

“A Houthi-appointed ambassador in Tehran uncovered for the first time the presence of a military relationship between Iran and the rebel group. Despite being considered by the legitimate government as a “fake ambassador,” the Houthi official unknowingly admitted the presence of ties between the two sides, particularly at the military level. Houthi-controlled media outlets published on Sunday photos showing its claimed ambassador Ibrahim Mohamed al-Dailami with Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami. The Houthi version of Saba news agency said that Dailami discussed with the Iranian minister joint cooperation, adding that the ambassador praised relations between Tehran and Houthis at all levels. The news agency also quoted sources saying that Hatami stressed the need to enhance and enforce relations between the Iranian army and Houthi militias, which he referred to as “the Yemeni Army.” The Hatami-Dailami meeting in Tehran and the statements delivered by the two men are considered the first official revelation about the bond between both sides. Since their coup against the government in 2014, Houthis deny receiving military support from Iran, although the international community has uncovered the smuggling of Iranian arms into Yemen.”

Iraq

The Times Of Israel: Thousands Rally In Iraq Against Iran’s Political Influence

“Thousands took to the streets in Iraq’s capital and across the south Sunday to protest against Iran’s kingmaking influence as the latest deadline for choosing a new prime minister loomed. Anti-government rallies have rocked Baghdad and the Shiite-majority south since October 1, with demonstrators calling for a complete overhaul of a regime they deem corrupt, inefficient and overly beholden to Tehran. “The revolution continues!” shouted one demonstrator at a protest encampment in central Diwaniyah. Protesters blocked off public buildings one by one in the southern Iraqi city, and put up banners reading “The country is under construction — please excuse the disruption.” Sunday marks the latest deadline — already pushed back twice by Iraqi President Barham Saleh — for parliament to choose a new premier to replace Adel Abdel Mahdi, who tendered his administration’s resignation last month. Officials say Iran wants to install Qusay al-Suhail, who served as higher education minister in the government of Abdel Mahdi. “But this is exactly what we oppose — Iranian control over our country,” said 24-year-old student Houeida, speaking to AFP in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, the epicentre of the protests which was once again abuzz with the youthful energy of thousands.”

Kurdistan 24: Iraqi Forces Kill 8 ISIS Members With Kornet Rocket In Disputed Makhmour

“Iraq’s defense ministry on Monday said a security forces detachment killed eight Islamic State operatives with a Kornet rocket on a mountain in the disputed Makhmour district. “The Da’esh [ISIS] members were intending to attack one of the regiment’s points that blocked the way to the mountain,” a defense ministry statement said. It indicated that “the target had been taken care of and eight ISIS [fighters] had been killed by a Kornet missile.” Makhmour is located in an area disputed by the Federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Region, some 60 kilometers southwest of Erbil. Following the liberation of Mosul, Islamic State militants gathered in surrounding disputed and vulnerable areas, which included Makhmour and Qarachokh Mountain. The security void in areas between territory protected by Iraqi troops and Kurdish Peshmerga forces sometimes reaches up to 20 kilometers deep. The rugged, barren terrain that is often seen in such areas has been a haven for Islamic State fighters who use it as a base from which to plan and launch attacks in surrounding settlements and towns. Members of the extremist group have recently carried out a series of terrorist attacks on both the Peshmerga and Iraqi forces in such areas in or near other disputed territories, killing dozens.”

Xinhua: 4 Policemen, IS Militant Killed In IS Attack In Iraq's Salahudin

“Four policemen and a militant of Islamic State (IS) group were killed on Saturday in an attack by the extremist IS militants in Iraq's central province of Salahudin, a security source said. The attack took place in the evening when IS militants attacked a police outpost guarding oil pipelines in north of the oil-refinery town of Baiji, some 200 km north of Baghdad, Mohammed al-Bazi from the provincial police told Xinhua. IS attack sparked a fierce clash with the police force continued until a reinforcement police force arrived to the scene, forcing IS attackers to withdrew to the nearby desert, al-Bazi said. The clash resulted in the killing of four policemen and one of the attackers, al-Bazi said, adding that a police officer was also wounded during the clash. The security situation in Iraq has been improved since Iraqi security forces fully defeated the extremist IS militants across the country late in 2017. However, IS remnants have since melted in urban areas or resorted to deserts and rugged areas, carrying out frequent guerilla attacks against security forces and civilians.”

Afghanistan

Reuters: Taliban Kill U.S. Force Member In Northern Afghanistan

“The Taliban said their fighters killed a U.S. service member in Afghanistan on Monday and posted photographs of a blood-soaked backpack and the identity card of a American soldier to prove it. The U.S. military said in a statement an American service member was “killed in action”, but gave no details and withheld the name of the service member until the next of kin were informed. Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Taliban, said they killed the U.S. force member in a blast in the northern province of Kunduz.”

Stars And Stripes: Afghan Official: Hundreds Of ISIS Members Surrounded, Detained

“The Afghan government said Saturday it has detained about 700 Islamic State group fighters and family members in eastern Afghanistan over the past six months. The Afghan intelligence service, the National Directorate for Security, said among the 700 are at least 75 women and 159 children. Many of the group are from foreign countries. Many were arrested, but some turned themselves in. The NDS said all of the fighters and family members were transported to the NDS compound in Kabul. Earlier, security forces had surrounded dozens of remaining fighters in their homes in various districts in the region. The NDS said the operation was ongoing. There was no way to independently confirm that the prisoners the government presented to reporters and photographers at the NDS compound Saturday are affiliated with the Islamic State group. Most of the arrested IS members are from Pakistan, Jordan and Central Asian countries, said an NDS officer who asked that his name not be used as agency rules don't allow him to be identified. As many as 277 foreigners are among the arrested militants, he said. Washington's peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad tweeted earlier this month that IS in eastern Afghanistan has been weakened by operations carried out not just by the U.S. and Afghan forces, but by the Taliban as well.”

Yemen

Asharq Al-Awsat: Yemen Govt. Accuses Houthis Of Abducting, Recruiting Female Students

“Information Minister in Yemen’s legitimate government Moammar al-Eryani accused the Iran-backed Houthi militias of waging a systematic campaign to recruit female students as part of their terrorist agenda. The militias want to recruit girls in their armed groups, called Zeinabiyyat, to use them to spy on women, he charged. The recruits are forced to join training programs where they are indoctrinated with Houthi ideology, he added. The minister said that this is part of the Houthis’ attempts to use women in their terrorist operations and destroy Yemen’s traditional values and norms that respect women and hold them in the highest of regards. Eryani called on international rights groups to condemn such Houthi criminal practices and all forms of violence against women in regions under their control. Yemeni and international rights sources accused the Houthis of escalating their campaign against women and girls. They cited the kidnapping of dozens of students from schools and off the streets for ransom or to humiliate their parents.”

Lebanon

The Times Of Israel: Thousands Protest Against New Hezbollah-Backed PM In Lebanon

“Thousands of protesters demonstrated in central Beirut and elsewhere in Lebanon on Sunday against the country’s new prime minister, saying he should abandon the post because he is a member of the ruling elite. After sunset, protesters closed several roads and highways in Beirut and other parts of the country to rally against the nomination of Hassan Diab, who was backed by the Hezbollah terror group and its allies and failed to win the backing of the main Sunni Muslim groups. The protesters, many of whom came from northern Lebanon and the eastern Bekaa Valley, also gathered in Beirut’s central Martyrs Square, one of the key places of the protests, which have been underway for more than two months. They later marched toward the parliament building guarded by scores of riot police. Unlike last week, when scuffles were reported between protesters and policemen outside the parliament, there was no violence on Sunday. Prime Minister-designate Diab, a university professor and former education minister, will have the task of steering Lebanon out of its worst economic and financial crisis in decades. He is also taking office against the backdrop of ongoing nationwide protests against the country’s ruling elite that the protesters blame for widespread corruption and mismanagement.”

Middle East

The Washington Times: Trump's Foreign Policy Creates Space For Terror Groups To Grow, Specialists Warn

“While its Middle East “caliphate” has been shattered, the Islamic State has regrouped and quickly gained a significant foothold in Africa’s unstable, impoverished Sahel region — and analysts say the U.S. is taking a serious foreign policy gamble by steering clear of major military intervention to address the growing terrorist threat. The Islamic State’s massacre this month of 71 soldiers in Niger came on the heels of other shocking attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso, and elsewhere across the western part of the continent. The violence has transformed sub-Saharan Africa into perhaps the world’s most fertile breeding ground for Islamic State, al Qaeda, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), and a host of other terror organizations that prey on economic desperation and take advantage of dysfunctional governments. The recent attacks highlight the dangerous military capabilities of those extremist groups and also shine a light on the inability of regional militaries to effectively fight back. While the French and other American partners have launched major counter-terrorism operations in the region, the U.S. military so far has mostly played a secondary role centered on training and advising local forces.”

Gulf News: Qatar Has Taken Half A Step Forward But Two Steps Back, Says UAE Minister

“UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash has commented on the ongoing crisis with Qatar on Monday. “A foreign guest asked me about the developments of the Qatar crisis, and I replied: Half a step forward and two steps back. The problem is that Qatar’s worst enemy is Qatar,” he tweeted.  His comments come weeks after the annual GCC Summit where Qatar’s Emir did not attend despite being invited by Saudi Arabia. There was intial hope ahead of the summit that Gulf leaders could use the forum to start mending ties after a years-long rift. The US-allied bloc has felt the fallout from a dispute that erupted more than two years ago pitting Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt against Qatar. In June 2017, the quartet cut off diplomatic and transportation links with Qatar over its support for extremist groups. The four countries have repeatedly demanded Doha to comply with a set of conditions to end the standoff. The demands include Qatar’s severance of links with militant and terror groups, scaling down ties with Iran and shutting down Al Jazeera TV, seen as a mouthpiece of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Following the summit, the UAE has accused the Muslim Brotherhood and Qatar of launching a targeted campaign against the UAE and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Zayed.”

The Times: Queen Is Enemy Of Islam And Must Die, Says Jail ‘Emir’

“In a prison cell at HMP Woodhill, the walls of which were lined with religious posters and family photographs, Brusthom Ziamani, 24, a jailed terrorist, and another prisoner, a convicted murderer, sat with two young inmates. Another man, then aged 24 and who will be referred to by the pseudonym Jack, arrived at the door and squeezed into the cramped room. The murderer, a broad, muscular man we have called M, greeted Jack with a bear hug and instructed him to stand beside Ziamani. These three converts to a warped and extremist brand of Islam had formed a self-styled Sharia court to sit in judgment on the two other prisoners sitting cross-legged on the floor. The accused were made to stand and announce their names before M told them they had been brought before his court for “disgracing the month of Ramadan”. He said: “You were caught drinking alcohol yesterday evening by the brothers. Due to the overwhelming evidence against you, we find you guilty despite your pleas of innocence.”

Nigeria

The Wall Street Journal: The New War Against Africa’s Christians

“A slow-motion war is under way in Africa’s most populous country. It’s a massacre of Christians, massive in scale and horrific in brutality. And the world has hardly noticed. A Nigerian Pentecostal Christian, director of a nongovernmental organization that works for mutual understanding between Nigeria’s Christians and Muslims, alerted me to it. “Have you heard of the Fulani?” he asked at our first meeting, in Paris, speaking the flawless, melodious English of the Nigerian elite. The Fulani are an ethnic group, generally described as shepherds from mostly Muslim Northern Nigeria, forced by climate change to move with their herds toward the more temperate Christian South. They number 14 million to 15 million in a nation of 191 million. Among them is a violent element. “They are Islamic extremists of a new stripe,” the NGO director said, “more or less linked with Boko Haram,” the sect that became infamous for the 2014 kidnapping of 276 Christian girls in the state of Borno. “I beg you,” he said, “come and see for yourself.” Knowing of Boko Haram but nothing of the Fulani, I accept. The 2019 Global Terrorism Index estimates that Fulani extremists have become deadlier than Boko Haram and accounted for the majority of the country’s 2,040 documented terrorist fatalities in 2018. To learn more about them, I travel to Godogodo, in the center of the country, where I meet a beautiful woman named Jumai Victor, 28. On July 15, she says, Fulani extremists stormed into her village on long-saddle motorcycles, three to a bike, shouting “Allahu Akbar!” They torched houses and killed her four children before her eyes.”

Sahara Reporters: Buhari Blames Libyan Fighters For Persistent Boko Haram Attacks In Nigeria

“President Muhammadu Buhari has blamed the continued Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria to Libyan fighters. Buhari said this during a bilateral meeting with President of Cote d’Ivoire, Alhassan Quattara, on the margins of the 56th ordinary session of the Economic Community of West African States. Buhari, according to a statement by Garba Shehu, Senior Special Assistant to the president on Media and Publicity, maintained that the instability in Libya was causing a recurring threat to the Sahel and Sub-Saharan Africa, expressing concern over the growing effect of the crisis on many lives. He added that the fighters in Libya were surviving on violent crimes and terrorism. The statement reads, “The President said the Libyan fighters, who were trained for the 43 years Muammar Gaddafi ruled the country were armed with deadly weapons and had been roaming the Sahel and Sub-Saharan region with no other skills for survival ‘but to shoot and kill.’ “President Buhari expressed happiness that neighbouring countries were supporting Nigeria in tackling the menace of the fighters who had teamed up with Boko Haram, adding that there was a need to do more by tWest African countries both under the ECOWAS platform and at bilateral levels.”

Premium Times: Boko Haram Attacks Humanitarian Workers, Three Feared Killed, Two Reportedly Kidnapped

“Three people were feared killed on Sunday when suspected members of the Boko Haram attacked humanitarian workers in Borno State. Two others were also reportedly kidnapped by the insurgents, sources told PREMIUM TIMES. The insurgents carried out the attack along the Maiduguri-Monguno road. Credible sources within the UN system in Maiduguri, Borno State, confirmed the attack. Details are still sketchy as officials within the UN offices said it is too early to give correct figures of casualties. A usually reliable UN source said the two of the abductees were female. “I can confirm to you that the sad incident happened today along Monguno road but one cannot be certain about the actual figure yet,” said the source who craved anonymity. PREMIUM TIMES gathered the attacked humanitarian workers are employees of an international NGO called Alima. Alima is the first INGO to set foot on the reclaimed town of Monguno in June 2016 when it commenced humanitarian aid operations in Borno State. It is still providing services in Monguno to date. All efforts to contact officials of Alima for further confirmation were not successful at the time of this report. The military too could not be reached for confirmation and has not released any statement on the attack.”

All Africa: Nigeria: Military Repels Boko Haram Attack On Damaturu - Governor's Convoy, '200' Other Vehicles Stranded

“The Nigerian military successfully repelled a Boko Haram attack on Damaturu, the Yobe State capital, an official has said. PREMIUM TIMES reported the panic in Damaturu as loud gunshots and artillery fire rented the air. Residents rushed into their houses and businesses closed hurriedly on Sunday evening while the attack occurred. While speaking on the attack, the spokesman of Sector II of Operation Lafiya Dole, Damaturu, Njoka Irabor, told PREMIUM TIMES that “the insurgents made an attempt to enter Damaturu from the northern flank of the town but were given a heavy blow by both air and ground troops.” Mr Irabor, an army captain, said Sunday night that Damaturu was now calm and “details of the attack will be relayed by tomorrow”. While the attack on Damaturu occurred, scores of vehicles trying to get to the town were stranded as the army blocked the roads leading into the town. Witnesses said more than 200 vehicles were stranded including the Borno State governor's convoy along Damaturu-Maiduguri highway. Some journalists who were part of the governor's convoy told PREMIUM TIMES that over 200 vehicles including commercial and private cars were held up at the entrance of Damaturu town at about 9 p.m.”

Somalia

Reuters: Somali Militants Claim Responsibility For Attack Outside Somali Hotel: Spokesman

“Somali Islamist militant group al Shabaab has claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack outside a hotel in the town of Galkayo, in the country’s Mudug region, which killed at least seven civilians, their spokesman told Reuters. “We are behind the Galkayo blast, it was a martyrdom suicide car bomber that targeted military officials who had a meeting in that place. We killed many soldiers and injured others,” Abdiasis Abu Musab, al Shabaab’s military operations spokesman, said on Sunday. A local military officer said on Saturday that in addition to those killed, dozens more were wounded. The militant Islamist group controls small sections of the Mudug region, but not Galkayo. It ruled most of south-central Somalia until 2011 when it was driven out of the capital Mogadishu by African Union troops. Despite the loss of territory, al Shabaab still carries out major gun and bomb attacks, often claiming casualty numbers that conflict with those given by government officials.”

Xinhua: Al-Shabaab Militants Torch Four Tractors At Construction Site In Northern Kenya

“Somalia based al-Shabaab militants on Sunday raided a construction site in Kenya's northern county of Mandera and burnt down four construction equipment. The equipment that was destroyed at a construction site near Kenyan border with Somalia, included an excavator, flat roller machine, shift foot roller and a pressure pump. Police and witnesses said the militants raided the site at dawn and burnt the equipment. No one was injured during the incident on the Mandera-Arabia-Lafey road as the two guards who were on duty managed to escape. Outgoing North Eastern Regional Commissioner Mohamed Birik, regional commissioner for North Eastern said security personnel northeastern were investigating the latest attack by al-Shabaab. The al-Shabaab militants have in the recent past intensified attacks along the Somalia-Kenya border targeting civilians and government installations. In December, al-Shabaab fighters attacked a bus heading to Mandera and killed eight police reservists who are not natives of the region. Police have so far arrested eight suspects for their alleged involvement in facilitating the attack on the reservists.”

Africa

Foreign Policy: U.S. To Ramp Up Counterterrorism Efforts In Sahel Region

“The Trump administration is preparing to create a new special envoy position and task force to deal with security threats in the Sahel region of Africa, reflecting a growing alarm in Washington about the rise of extremist groups in West Africa, including ones affiliated with the Islamic State. The measure comes as extremist groups carry out increasingly deadly attacks in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso and spread their reach further south. Officials and experts warn that the extremist groups are gaining strength despite U.S.-led special operations raids and drone strikes, and yearslong efforts by Western countries and West African governments to root out the groups. The administration is preparing to appoint a special envoy who would head an interagency task force composed of officials from the State Department, the intelligence community, the Defense Department, and other agencies to better coordinate the U.S. response to the extremist groups in the region, current and former officials and congressional aides familiar with the matter tell Foreign Policy. One official cautioned that the details of the plan are still being hashed out and the move has not yet been made official. The administration is also drafting a new strategy for the Sahel to guide the work, several officials said.”

BBC News: West Africa: Is France Losing Ground To Militants?

“A rise in the number of attacks by jihadists in West Africa has led to growing concerns over French military involvement in the region. French President Emmanuel Macron is visiting Niger this weekend to address these issues and to pay his respects following the recent loss of both French and local soldiers in military operations. The current French operation has been running since 2014, co-ordinating on security issues with Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad. They are fighting a complex web of jihadist groups that Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou has described as having become “professionals in the art of war”. An attack by jihadists on an army base earlier this month led to the deaths of more than 70 soldiers in Niger. In November, 13 French troops died in a helicopter collision during an operation against jihadists in Mali, the biggest single loss of life for the French military since the 1980s. Regional leaders have called for more international support to tackle the militants but there has also been rising anti-French sentiment and protests in some cities in the region. The Sahel, the vast semi-desert region that stretches across West Africa, is home to numerous al-Qaeda and Islamic State-aligned groups.”

Voice Of America: Macron Vows To Keep Fighting Extremism In West Africa

“France's President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to boost the fight against Islamic extremism in West Africa as French troops killed 33 Islamic extremists in central Mali. Macron spoke Saturday on the second day of his three-day trip to Ivory Coast and Niger that has been dominated by the growing threat posed by jihadist groups. “We must remain determined and united to face that threat,” Macron said in a news conference in Abidjan. “We will continue the fight.” By Macron's side, Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara in Abidjan announced a “historic” reform of the French-backed currency CFA Franc, established in 1945 and used by eight states in West and Central Africa. The currency's name will become the “eco” next year and all French officials will withdraw from its decision-making bodies, Ouattara said. In addition, the obligation for member states to keep half of their foreign reserves in France will end. The currency will remain pegged to the euro, which guarantees its stability, Ouattara stressed. Macron, who turned 42 on Saturday, welcomed the reform and praised the financial and economic empowerment of the region. “I don't belong to a a generation that has known colonialism ... so let's break the ties!” he said, adding that the currency was considered by some, especially the African youth, as a post-colonial heritage.”

Al Jazeera: Five Arrested For Attack On Mosques In Ethiopia's Amhara Region

“Five people suspected of burning down four mosques in Ethiopia's Amhara region have been arrested, a regional spokesman has said, as rising intercommunal and ethnic violence threatens political reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. “Five people who are suspected of leading and organising the attacks have now been arrested,” Getnet Yirsaw, the Amhara state spokesman, said in a Facebook post on Saturday. State-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported on Saturday that a number of mosques were attacked and that “other properties were destroyed” in Mota town, more than 350 kilometres (217 miles) north of the capital, Addis Ababa. “Attempts by extremists to breakdown our rich history of religious tolerance and coexistence have no place in the new prosperity focused Ethiopia,” Abiy, this year's Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said in a statement posted on his Facebook and Twitter accounts. “I condemn such acts of cowardice and call upon all peace loving Ethiopians to draw upon our deep knowledge of coexistence and our reservoir of respect,” the statement added. Fana also said one church was attacked. While ethnic violence has been a persistent problem under Abiy, recent unrest appears to have been at least partly motivated by religion.”

United Kingdom

Fox News: London Bridge Hero Who Subdued Terrorist With Narwhal Tusk Recounts Incident

“The hero who fought off the knife-wielding London Bridge terrorist with an ornamental 5-foot narwhal tusk spoke Saturday of his “deep hurt” for the two individuals who were killed in the attack. Civil servant Darryn Frost, 38, said he and the others reacted instinctively when Usman Khan, 28, began stabbing people on the bridge Nov. 29. Khan was eventually shot dead by police. “When we heard the noise from the floor below, a few of us rushed to the scene,” Frost said. “I took a narwhal tusk from the wall and used it to defend myself and others from the attacker. Another man was holding the attacker at bay with a wooden chair.” He said Khan had a large knife in each hand and pointed at his midriff. “He turned and spoke to me, then indicated he had an explosive device around his waist,” Frost said. “At this point, the man next to me threw his chair at the attacker, who then started running towards him with knives raised above his head.” Frost and others — including one man who sprayed Khan with a fire extinguisher — managed to fight the attacker to the ground until police arrived. The jihadist, who had served prison time for earlier terrorism offenses, was shot dead by police moments later after he threatened again to detonate his vest, which turned out to be a fake.”

Daily Mail: Islamist Extremists Are Holding Sharia Law Trials, Punishment Beatings And Pledges Of Allegiance To Isis INSIDE British Jails, Former Inmate Claims

“Extremists in British prisons are holding their own Sharia trials, grooming young Muslim inmates and sharing banned books, it has been reported. An ex-prisoner claimed he took part in punishment beatings and Sharia courts with a group of prisoners who pledged allegiance to Isis. Last night security experts called for an urgent review into radicalisation in British jails. The claims come after police watchdogs revealed they are to probe whether London Bridge killer Usman Khan should have been watched more closely after his release from jail.  Khan - who stabbed two people to death on a knife rampage - was freed halfway through his 16-year sentence for terrorism without the necessary Parole Board assessment of his threat to the public. A former prisoner, who spoke to The Times, said he was recruited at HMP Woodhill, Milton Keynes, by a group which included a follower of the hate preacher Anjem Choudary and claimed that he had access to recordings of talks by the al-Qaeda ideologue Anwar al-Awlaki. The ex-prisoner, who is in his 20s and used the pseudonym Jack, said his former inmates have contacted him offering to help him travel to Syria.”

Germany 

Asharq Al-Awsat: Germany Charges Woman As ISIS Member

“German prosecutors have filed terrorism charges against a German woman who allegedly joined the ISIS group in Syria. Federal prosecutors said Monday that the indictment against the woman, identified only as Sibel H. in line with local privacy laws, was filed with the Munich state court on Dec. 6.  She is accused of membership in a foreign terrorist organization as well as war crimes against property. Prosecutors allege that she traveled to Syria with her husband in early 2016 to join ISIS, and ended up in Iraq.  They said the couple lived in homes seized by ISIS, and she ran the household to support her husband's work for the extremist group, the Associated Press reported. Sibel H. returned to Germany in April 2018 after being thrown out of Iraq by Kurdish security authorities, prosecutors said. She was arrested in August, but released pending trial in September.”

Europe

Associated Press: Sweden Sentences Iraqi Man Of Spying For Iran

“A Swedish court on Friday sentenced a 46-year-old Iraqi man to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges of spying for Iran by gathering information about Iranian refugees in Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. The man, identified as Raghdan al-Hraishawi in court documents, was convicted by the Stockholm District Court of carrying out illegal intelligence activities by collecting information about minority Iranian Arabs, known as Ahvazis. Sweden’s intelligence agency said al-Hraishawi, who has both Iraqi and Swedish citizenship, was arrested on Feb. 27. He denied the charges and claimed he only was working as a reporter. Parts of his trial were held behind closed doors. Al-Hraishawi obtained permanent residence in Sweden in 2009, according to the verdict, obtained by The Associated Press. In its decision, the court said al-Hraishawi, from a region in southeastern Iraq close to the border with Iran, acted under the cover of representing an Arabic online newspaper and used a tribal name when contacting Ahvazis. His activities “may have caused a large number of opposition Ahvazis or their relatives to be persecuted, seriously injured or killed,” hence the crime was being assessed “as serious,” it said.”

Southeast Asia

Al Jazeera: More Than A Dozen Wounded In Southern Philippines Explosions

“Explosions have rocked two towns and a city in the southern Philippines, wounding at least 17 people including soldiers, a military official said. A hand grenade was thrown into a military truck patrolling Cotabato City in the southern island of Mindanao, with eight soldiers and four civilians sustaining injuries from the bomb's shrapnel. It was quickly followed by blast from an improvised explosive device (IED) in the nearby town of Libungan, wounding five civilians with one in “serious” condition, regional military spokesperson Major Arvin Encinas said on Sunday. Another explosion took place in the neighbouring town in Maguindanao, although police were still gathering information on whether there were casualties. No groups have claimed responsibility for the attacks, which happened as the government moved to lift  martial law on the island. “We do not discount the possibility that Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters BIFF and Daesh-inspired groups are behind this,” Encinas told AFP news agency, referring to fighters with links to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, or ISIS). There are several conflicts in the Philippines, including a separatist uprising in Mindanao that has killed some 100,000 people. Though a landmark peace deal with the largest of the rebel groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, was sealed in 2019, a number of factions were not included.”

Technology

The Wall Street Journal: How To Police Facebook And Google Like A Public Place

“In 1928, a woman named Mary Donoghue bought a bottle of ginger beer from a cafe in Paisley, Scotland, and then fell ill after finding a dead snail inside. She sued the manufacturer and won. The ruling enshrined the concept of “duty of care”—a legal obligation to protect a customer, tenant or worker from harm. “The rule that you are to love your neighbor becomes in law ‘You must not injure your neighbor,’” proclaimed Lord Atkin of Aberdovey, who presided over the case in 1932 in Britain’s House of Lords, which reversed two lower courts to rule for Donoghue. Now, as Western regulators struggle with how to restrict the most harmful online content while at the same time protecting free speech, Britain has come to see the nearly century-old principle as a possible solution. “Duty of care” helped to lay the foundation for modern health and safety laws in the U.K. After World War II, the concept also took hold across the Atlantic, where U.S. courts made it the basis of modern American negligence law. The principle doesn’t prescribe specific rules or remedies. Instead, it makes an employer, for example, generally liable for the safety of its employees.”